Family Court v Criminal Court

I haven’t had the time or emotional energy to look this one up properly but I see today that there are various very similar reports in the press regarding the acquittal last November of a father for the murder of his baby, and a judgment arising from care proceedings that holds him responsible for it.

John Woodcock MP is reported in The Guardian as saying, having compared the case to the Poppi Worthington case :

The most striking similarity is of another father suspected of killing his child trying to suppress damning findings from a family court; I will be writing to the new justice secretary asking her to review urgently the status of family court findings in criminal trials.

The news items have probably been prompted by the publication of the family court judgment on BAILII, but it’s late and I don’t have time to search properly and read it (a quick search didn’t turn it up) – and nor do I need to do so to make my short point.

Let me spell this out : The temporary witholding of a family court judgment from publication pending conclusion of a criminal trial is entirely standard practice, and if not requested by the father, the judge would usually be imposed anyway – not in order to assist the father to secure his acquittal as Mr Woodcock supposes, but in order to ensure that (if the evidence were sufficiently cogent) he could be convicted. The earlier publication of a judgment saying he dunnit would be a nice basis for an argument that the trial had been prejudiced and could jeopardise any change of conviction.

Mr Woodcock seems to suppose that a family court judgment should be admissible as evidence in a criminal trial. No doubt the new justice secretary can add this task to the very long list of things she is “looking into”, following today’s Justice Committee appearance. She’ll need to start by repealing section 98(2) of the Children Act 1989.

5 thoughts on “Family Court v Criminal Court

  1. I’m saying nothing – Miranda told me to say that. 😉

  2. The justice secretary will need to check out different standards of proof and get someone to look up Re C (A Minor) (Care Proceedings: Disclosure) [1997] Fam 76, [1997] 2 WLR 322, sub nom Re EC (Disclosure of Material) [1996] 2 FLR 725, CA for her.
    A problem is that the relationship between care proceedings and criminal trials is governed not by law but by a protocol – She may want to look into that as well, perhaps?

    • Thanks David. I’d momentarily forgotten about the protocol. It is in a file on my shelf gathering dust because every time I bring it out everyone looks at me blankly before utterly ignoring it!

  3. Thanks for starting this interesting mini-debate and your helpful reminder. I note your comment [with perhaps undertones of sarcasm but never mind] about things the new Justice Secretary needs to look into. It strikes me that it would be useful for family lawyers and other interested parties to put together a “shopping list” of legislative and other changes that are desirable. When I was a civil servant we kept an up to date list, adding items as problems arose, ready for putting to new ministers. Worth a try?

    • There was a hint of sarcasm in the look into comment as all reports of Liz Truss’ performance at the Select Committee said she had answered she was “looking into” a great many things, which began to give an impression she was not quite on top of her brief. Or so I understand it. I would have thought The Law Commission was the body who ought to propose legislative changes – they do sometimes put out a call for proposals that they can work up and take forward.

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